Terry Vanderplas

Terry Charles Vanderplas, 83, passed away peacefully at home, with his loving husband
by his side, following a ten month battle with prostate cancer. He was born in Centralia,
IL, to Ray H. and Alice (Cooke) Vanderplas, of Lake City, KS, on October 31, 1939.
After brief stays in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, Ray and Alice settled in
Phillipsburg, KS. Terry graduated from Phillipsburg High School, and earned his BA in
Fine Arts (Ceramics) from the University of Kansas. As an undergraduate, he was one of
seven students from across the country to be awarded a Heritage Foundation Summer
Fellowship, in Deerfield, MS.
He started working on a Masters in Library Science at Kent State, but returned to KU
where he earned most of a Masters in Jewelry and Silversmithing. The Heritage
Foundation interrupted his studies by offering him a position as silversmith at Historic
Deerfield and docent of their extensive collection of early American silver. While there
he traveled to the major museums around the county with extensive collections of early
American silver, photographing makers marks for a book being co-written by Henry
Flint, Director of the Heritage Foundation. He was eventually promoted to Assistant
Curator of the Heritage Foundation.
In April 1967, on a chance visit with a friend to sample the nightlife in nearby
Springfield, MA, he met his future partner and husband-to-be, Stephen Backiel. They
dated for 17 months, and Steve earned his masters, and was accepted into the Naval
Officer Training program. With Steve leaving for the Navy, Terry decided to complete his
masters in Library Science at Univ. of Oklahoma. After graduation, he was able to join
Steve in Houston, TX, where he was living, since being posted to shore duty at the U S
Navy’s first ROTC unit at an historically black college, Prairie View A&M. Terry was
hired there as Head of Acquisitions for the library system. Mid-way through his tenure,
he was proud to learn from one of his student workers that the word on campus was, “If
you want a great job, for a great boss, work for Vanderplas at the library.”
Terry moved with Steve to Knoxville, TN in August of 1973, for Steve to pursue graduate
work in school psychology. There being no librarian jobs available, a good friend referred
him to the display department at Miller’s Department Stores. As Head Craftsman of the
display department, he was in charge of building large and small props, tables, window
backdrops, sets for fashion shows, as well as producing all of the 3-dimensional lettering
identifying departments for all 12 Millers stores in East Tennessee.
Terry was a life-long collector of diverse items, from fossils and Native American
artifacts, to Victorian glass tumblers, books on gemstones and Art Deco, Star Wars light
sabers, toy robots and transformers, paint-by-number paintings, and Japanese pottery. A
casual purchase of a coin bank/pot metal souvenir of the New York Life Ins. Co. building
eventually led to a hobby of collecting souvenir buildings, from the Empire State Bldg
and the Washington Monument, to cathedrals, castles, banks, and monuments from
around the world. As active collectors for 40 years, he and Steve’s collection now
numbers over 1,000 buildings.
Terry was preceded in death by his parents, and cousins Dana Trump and Carol Rogers.
He is survived by Steve Backiel, his partner of 55 years, and husband for the last six
years, following their marriage by Mayor Madeline Rogero in her office on April 1, 2016,
as well as by his brother Kent Vanderplas, of Wichita, KS, and many dear cousins, nieces,
nephews, friends and neighbors.
Terry will be fondly remembered as a talented, funny, and unique friend. Steve’s sister
described Terry as the personification of nice. He went out of his way trying to make
others feel better, and was perpetually lending a helping hand to his friends, family,
neighbors, acquaintances and even strangers. He was always ready to expertly repair
or refinish a friend’s broken/chipped/weathered coffee mug, chair, trunk, or small
appliance. Finding decorative or useful items at yard sales and antique malls to brighten a
friend’s home or garden brought him great joy.
He greeted everyone with a smile. He left tips for the busboy under his plate at
buffets. He was often the last one of our group to leave a restaurant because he had
stopped to tell the manager how great the waitstaff was. He insisted on thanking all
service personnel by their name. He routinely praised the “charming and helpful”
manner of salesclerks, doctors, nurses, care givers, etc. Invariably their response
would be, “Oh thank you! No one has ever said that to me!”
Terry delighted in amusing people with his quirky sense of humor. He loved to do
silly, unexpected things, like tying artificial flowers on the rhododendron by the
front door, two months before it was due to bloom. He decorated the cat door to
look like the entrance to an Egyptian tomb. His hand-written letters usually had
titles at the top of each page, totally unrelated to its contents, such as, “Part 2: The
Squirrel Incident,” then “Part 3: Mr. Bealer is Taken Captive.” He surrounded the
thermostat on the dining room wall with a collection of antique thermostats, so that
the working unit “did not stick out like a sore thumb!”
A Celebration of Life party will be held January 19, 2023 at Relix, 1208 N. Central St.,
Knoxville, TN 37917, 7:30 -10:30PM. Souvenirs from Terry’s collections will be
available for guests to take home as a memento of our dear friend. Messages of
condolence may be posted at www.dogwoodcremations.com. In lieu of flowers, memorial
donations may be sent to:
Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee, P.O. Box 4939, Maryville, TN 37802, or
the ASPCA.

Posted in Obituaries.